25 January 2019
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Belgium on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Geert Muylle, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, explained that in Belgium, the Convention on the Rights of the Child covered a number of domains which in the federal structure fell under the competence of several governments, and then introduced the Belgian delegation.
Karen Van Lathem, President of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child of Belgium, introducing the report, said that two institutions were of particular importance for the monitoring of the rights of the child: the services of the Ombudsperson of the Kinderrechtencommissariaat in the Flanders and the Delegate General for the rights of the child for the French Community; both had recently prioritized homelessness, violence against children, and the right to participation, and had implemented awareness raising on complex issues, including violent radicalization. Since 2010, significant work had been carried out in the area of data collection and 40 national indicators had been developed to understand how children enjoyed their rights. Highlighting the importance attached to child participation, Ms. Van Lathem said that developing a participatory culture was a process and recognized that Belgium still had some distance to go in order to ensure the structural participation of children at all levels and for all children. The sixth reform of the State was an opportunity to address the legal framework for children in conflict with the law, in which the focus had been on the rights of the child and restorative measures.
At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the progress in the situation of children’s rights in Belgium, the incorporation of several provisions of the Convention in the Constitution, and the setting up of the family and youth court in particular, but raised concern about the lack of a law integrating all the Convention’s principles into the domestic legislation. Taking positive note of the development of 40 child-related indicators, the Experts remarked that they did not take into account several categories of children – including children in poverty and children in care, and thus did not adequately present the reality of the most vulnerable children. De facto discrimination against children based on origin and disability, racism and Islamophobia were serious concerns, Experts said, warning that if not adequately addressed they could contribute to a climate that fostered social and cultural segregation and isolation and exclusion of certain groups of children. It seemed that institutional care was the first response for children without parental authority, especially for children with disabilities and poor children: 14,000 children – mostly children with disabilities – were in institutions in French and Flemish Communities, while 300 babies lived in hospitals in the French Community due to a lack of places in institutions. Other concerns raised in the discussion related to the non-systematic application of the best interest of the child, as evidenced by the care for migrant and asylum-seeking children and children with disabilities; the extension of the law on euthanasia to children; non-consensual surgical intervention on intersex children; and the absence of prohibition of corporal punishment.
Velina Todorova, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Belgium, in her concluding remarks, appreciated comprehensive rights-based policies and the funding at federal and regional levels, as well as action to reduce child poverty and the efforts to push the child-rights agenda forward at the European level.
In his concluding remarks, Thomas Stevens, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed the importance that Belgium placed on the expertise and experience of the Committee, whose comments helped the authorities at all levels to identify the challenges and remedies.
Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, noted the difficulty of dealing, in this dialogue, with three different regions, each with its own policies and institutions.
The delegation of Belgium consisted of the representatives of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child, Federal Public Service Justice, and the Office for Foreigners, from the federal level; Ministry of Culture, Medias, and Youth of Brussels, Ministry for Social Assistance, Public Health and Family, and the Representative of the Flemish Government to international organizations in Geneva, from the Flemish Community and Region; the Delegate General for the rights of the child for the French Community Belgium and the Walloon Region in Geneva, Agency for Quality of Life, Birth and Childhood Office, and the Observatory on Children, Youth and Assistance to Young People, from the French Community and the Walloon Region; Ministry for Mobility and Public Works, and the Joint Community Commission of the Brussels-Capital Region; as well as representatives of the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.
The Committee’s next public meeting will take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 January, when it is scheduled to informally meet with States.
The Committee is considering the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Belgium (CRC/C/BEL/5-6).
Presentation of the Report
GEERT MUYLLE, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, at the outset, recalled the importance that Belgium attached to the promotion and protection of human rights and to the efficient functioning of treaty bodies, and its active support to the implementation of General Assembly resolution 68/268. Therefore, Belgium declared that it would submit its next periodic report under the simplified reporting procedure. The Convention on the Rights of the Child covered a number of domains which in the federal structure fell under the competence of several governments, explained the Permanent Representative, which represented the structure of the State following different institutional reforms. He then proceeded to introduce the Belgian delegation.
KAREN VAN LATHEM, President of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child, introducing the report, said that the Commission was made up of some 90 members from the Government, the Ombudsperson, lawyers and judges, academia, and non-governmental organizations. An institutional reform in 2015 had led to the establishment of an independent body and an intergovernmental body within the Commission, and a Bureau to enable a constructive dialogue between the representatives of the Government and civil society. Two institutions of particular importance for the monitoring of the rights of the child in Belgium were the services of the Ombudsperson of the Kinderrechtencommissariaat in the Flanders and the Delegate General for the rights of the child for the French Community, which had recently prioritized homelessness, violence against children, and the right to participation, and had implemented awareness raising on complex issues, including violent radicalization.
Since 2010, Belgium had carried out significant work in the area of data collection, developing 40 national indicators concerning the rights of the child in order to understand, also based on the children’s opinion, how their rights were being enjoyed. In order to address gaps in data, Belgium had conducted in April 2017 a survey on children in migratory situations, focusing on 1,000 newly arrived children. The survey had shown that for those children, teachers became more than educators; they were trusted adults that continued to provide important support to migrant children at various points of their lives. The second survey in May 2018 had targeted all children in care. Developing a participatory culture was a process, Ms. Van Lathem recognized, and Belgium had still some distance to go in order to ensure the structural participation of children at all levels and for all children.
Belgium was aware of the existing challenges in accessing universal health care. An important inter-federal project for children’s mental health had been put in place to connect all the actors into a network, while the Bru-Star mental health network of 2017 aimed to develop, in Brussels, an integrated approach to supporting children in crisis and their parents. The sixth reform of the State was an opportunity to address the legal framework for children in conflict with the law, in which the focus had been on the rights of the child and restorative measures. An important reform of childcare facilities was ongoing in the French Region, which aimed to improve the access of all the children and the quality of care, training of personnel, and financing. In the Flemish Region, the focus was on developing a uniform system and creating new places, including for vulnerable children. In the education sector, the Covenant for Good Teaching represented a vast reform programme in the French community, with the participation of all educational actors, including children, and which aimed, by 2030, to ensure equity and inclusion in the education system. In the Flemish Region, the “Decree M” addressed inclusive education and prescribed, for the first time, the reduction of the number of children in special education. A number of initiatives to develop a “culture of the rights of the child” were being implemented locally, including the “child-friendly cities” in the Flemish community and a pilot project in Walloon and Brussel communities which aimed to foster consultation with children at the local levels.
Questions by the Country Rapporteur
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Belgium, welcomed the progress that Belgium had made in improving the situation of children’s rights in the country, including the incorporation of several provisions of the Convention in the Constitution, the setting up of the family and youth court, and the adoption of the law on assistance and on combatting trafficking in persons. Nevertheless, challenges remained, in particular poverty, the situation of unaccompanied migrant children, the administration of juvenile justice, and the Belgium children still in Syria.
What was the status of the reservations that Belgium had entered to the Convention and when would it ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture that it had signed several years ago? The various regions had legislative and regulative provisions on the rights of the child, but there was no law that integrated into Belgian legislation all the provisions of the Convention.
The coordinating role of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child was not very clear, and shortcomings in the coordination hampered the effective implementation of the Convention throughout the State territory. Had the objectives of the federal plan to combat poverty 2016-2019 been reached, and how did the State and regions financially contribute to the implementation of the Convention?
Turning to data, the Co-Rapporteur remarked that a number of categories of children had not been taken into account, which meant that the 40 indicators that Belgium had developed did not present the reality of most vulnerable children, especially children living in poverty and children in care. Did all regions use the same criteria to collect child-related data and to develop policies?
The Children’s Rights and Business Principles Forum had been established, remarked Mr. Gastaud, asking how this body participated in protecting the rights of the child and about the effects of its activities in Belgium and abroad. What was the status of the national action plan on businesses and human rights and what principles did it contain?
The Co-Rapporteur raised questions on the independence of the national human rights institution, the prohibition of wearing a veil, and measures envisaged to strengthen the protection of the privacy of children’s data.
VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Belgium, raised concern about de facto discrimination against children based on origin and disability, while racism and Islamophobia had been detected as social problems, especially after terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. If not adequately addressed, this could contribute to a climate that led to the isolation and exclusion of certain groups of children, as well as to social and cultural segregation.
The Co-Rapporteur also raised concern about the non-systematic application of the best interest of the child, as evidenced by the care for migrant and asylum-seeking children and children with disabilities. What was being done to train judges and lawyers in the principle of the best interest of the child. Commending Belgium’s policy which allowed children above the age of 16 to participate in local consultations, Ms. Todorova asked how this policy was being implemented, and – most importantly – about its impact on the opinion of children on local policies.
A child should be able to agree or disagree with any decision that impacted his or her sexual and gender identity, the Co-Rapporteur stressed, asking about non-consensual surgical interventions on intersex children. Were there any debates in the society on the radical practice of euthanasia? What measures were in place to ensure that the child was adequately informed? Had any studies been conducted into the root causes of violence against children to inform policy? An outstanding issue when it came to violence against children in Belgium was the lack of a sound legal prohibition of corporal punishment, particularly at home and in alternative care.
Gender-based violence in various forms was widely present in the society, including in textbooks. On the early detection of violence, the delegation was asked about the duty of officials – including priests – to report violence against children, and the availability of and children’s access to helplines in French, Flemish and German. The delegation was asked to inform on the amendment to the criminal code on sex offences, and on the preliminary decree to combat gender-based violence in French speaking communities, in particular its impact on girls.
Another Expert addressed the child’s right to know his or her origin, considering that there were about 70,000 donor-conceived persons in Belgium, who did not have the right to obtain any information about their origin, including medical information or siblings. How could adopted children realize their right to know their origin?
Replies by the Delegation
As for the withdrawal of interpretative reservations to articles of the Convention, Belgium considered that the reservation on article 2 did not run counter to its obligations and did not impede the implementation of the Convention throughout the territory of the State. Maintaining a distinction between nationals and foreigners was not discriminatory when based on objective and reasonable criteria, and that was why Belgium did not intend to withdraw this reservation. The reservation on article 40 would remain as well on the review by judgements of a higher court; this was a positive development for children who needed to appear in the legal system as this would ensure that the child had a clear understanding of the reasons that they had been brought before the law.
The ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture had been discussed by the regions and communities, said a delegate, adding that Belgium would deposit the instrument of ratification as soon as all concerned parliamentary assemblies agreed. The establishment of a national prevention mechanism was a complex process, and Belgium could not skip stages; the mechanism would be created by expanding the competence of one or several existing bodies and would have to cover all places of deprivation of liberty and all relevant institutions within federal competence such as prisons, and federated competences, such as closed protection youth services and centres. An information day for all the relevant authorities from regions and communities would be held in May 2019.
With regard to the intention to adopt a law to incorporate the Convention in the national legislation, the delegation explained that in 2009, a number of rights enumerated in the Convention, including the application of the principle of the best interest of the child, had been included in the Constitution, thus strengthening the existing constitutional rights. Each level of authority had a responsibility to adopt child rights legislation, and there were cross-cutting laws and mechanisms as well; each of those took into account the Convention and the Committee’s concluding observations.
Responding to questions raised on children’s policies and action plans, the delegation said that in the Flemish Region, there was a comprehensive child rights policy since 1997; the new government would submit the action plan on the rights of the child and youth to Parliament within 12 months, and would reduce the number of objectives from 12 to five crosscutting ones. In the French Community and the Walloon Region, children were actively involved in policy design and its assessment. Since 2006, Brussels Capital Region had been drafting a regular report on the status of poverty in the Brussels Capital Region and submitting it to the Reunited Assembly. The 2014-2019 programme of action to combat poverty had set up a very broad working group in which local communities, represented by 19 social action centres, and people from vulnerable groups participated. Two years ago, the Brussels Capital Region had initiated testing the impact of policies and how they benefited individuals.
As for the independence of the Ombudsperson, the delegation said that the Delegate General for the rights of the child for the French Community was appointed by Parliament and no longer by the Government; in the Flemish Region, the Kinderrechtencommissariaat was a parliamentary institution set up in 1997, whose staff were appointed by the Flemish Parliament following an independent procedure. The German-speaking Community was aware of a lack of an Ombudsperson competent for this Community and would examine the possibility of incorporating this competence in the future, when implementing the sixth reform of the State.
The delegation said that the Equal Opportunities Commission was working on setting up a national human rights institution, in line with the Government’s priorities, and explained that the approach was to set it up in several stages: first, to set up a federal body with the competence for federal institutions, and then gradually expand it into the federated entities and institutions. This approach was in line with the Paris Principles.
In terms of the knowledge that children had about the Convention and their rights, the delegation said that two years ago, Belgium had conducted a survey on the knowledge of children’s rights, which had included 2,000 children aged 5-18. The results showed that in the five to eight age group, 45 per cent had heard of children’s rights; 60 per cent of the eight to 11 years old were aware of their rights; and in the group of 11 to 18 year olds, 80 per cent knew about the rights of the child.
The Belgian Forum on Children’s Rights and Business Principles, set up in 2012, aimed to invite companies, Governments, academia, and civil society to reflect on the important role that they could play in the promotion of the rights of the child in Belgium and abroad, and to cooperate with the business community to develop structural solutions and harmonize existing mechanisms at all levels of government, in particular to combat child poverty.
Belgium remained firmly committed to fostering human rights in business and had adopted in 2017 the national action plan on business and human rights, which contained 23 actions to be implemented by federal and sub-federal units. Soon, it would set up a platform to highlight good practices and motivate others to respond to challenges.
The decision of the Flemish Community to outlaw religious symbols as of 2019 was being challenged in the local courts and their ruling was awaited.
The legal age of marriage was 18, but there were exceptions, which had to be authorized by the Family Court. Belgium had organized in 2014 a European conference on how best to implement the principle of the best interest of the child in family matters. In addition, the new code on youth protection stipulated that any implementation must take into account the best interest of the young people and their rights and freedoms, while the amendment to residency law of 2018 stipulated that this principle must always prevail and set out the criteria for its evaluation.
On corporal punishment, the proposed amendment to the Civil Code of 2016 had mentioned the right of the child to life, health and education, and prohibited their degrading treatment, but agreement at the federal Government level had not been obtained. There was a willingness in the society to prohibit corporal punishment, but due to the Government’s resignation, it was not possible to pursue the amendment.
Questions by Committee Experts
VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Belgium, in the next round of questions, asked the delegation about the lack of places for child care and long waiting lists, the regulation of private child care institutions, and the obstacles that the Government encountered in expanding the child care capacity, especially for vulnerable children. On alternative care, it seemed that institutional care was the first response for children without parental authority, especially for children with disabilities and poor children: 14,000 children – mostly children with disabilities – were in institutions in French and Flemish Communities, while 300 babies lived in hospitals in the French Community due to a lack of places in institutions. What measures were being taken to deinstitutionalize children and strengthen the foster system?
What progress was being made on the implementation of the concluding observations that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had made to Belgium in 2014, including on increasing support to families with children with disabilities, deinstitutionalizing children with disabilities, and expanding inclusive education? The Committee was particularly concerned about the vulnerability of over 1,000 French speaking children with disabilities who were institutionalized in the Walloon Region and who did not seem to have contact with their parents.
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Belgium, commended Belgium for the quality of free of charge education, and then raised several concerns: the high school drop-out rate, especially children from underprivileged backgrounds; the high cost of textbooks; and violence in schools, including cyber violence. On unaccompanied migrant and asylum seeking children, the host conditions for these children were not appropriate because of a lack of qualified staff and lack of capacity. The Co-Rapporteur remarked that age determination by unreliable conditions did not take into account the best interest of the child, and asked if Belgium was thinking of using other methods. He raised concern about a large number of unaccompanied migrant and asylum seeking children, including those who, for various reasons, did not claim asylum. The forced closed return centre for children with their families, which Belgium had set up recently, ran counter to the best interest of the child – could the delegation comment?
It was possible for children aged 16 to be tried as adults, while children aged 14 or even 12 could be exceptionally placed in detention, the Co-Rapporteur remarked, asking what was being done to ensure that all children under the age of 18 were treated under the juvenile justice system. The delegation was asked to comment on the repatriation of Belgian children from Syria – 20 had been repatriated and another 162 were awaiting repatriation. Belgium had envisaged a suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia which was involved in the war in Yemen – had this suspension entered into force?
Another Expert inquired whether Belgium would develop a national strategy to address air pollution, and link it to the wider issue of climate change, including the plan to comply with commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Replies by the Delegation
Belgium was well aware of the increased risk of poverty for children up to the age of 15 compared to other segments of the population. The issue had been a priority of the Belgian presidency of the European Union in 2010. The national action plan to combat child poverty for 2013–2014, which had extended beyond the borders of the Communities and Regions, had focused specifically on combatting child poverty, and had been based on three key strategic areas: access to adequate resources, access to quality services and opportunities, and the participation of children. The third federal plan to combat poverty 2016-2019 contained specific actions to combat child poverty; there was the plan to combat child poverty in the Flanders, and fighting social inequalities was a part of the child rights plan in the French Community.
In 2017, the French Community spent €8.1 million on children, representing over four per cent of the total budget; 90 per cent of those resources had been invested in education and teaching. The Flemish Community had allocated the budget of €37 million in 2018 for subsidies on training and participation. The Walloon Region had a number of initiatives and projects, including the child-friendly project with a budget of €1 million and a project to support the educational inclusion of children with disabilities with €15 million, while a significant proportion of the Region’s budget had been spent on family benefits. The Brussels Capital Region had a plan to combat poverty which aimed to reduce child poverty, social inequality, homelessness of families, and school drop-outs, while family benefits, which took up an important part of the budget, were an important tool in the fight against poverty. The inter-federal service to combat poverty and social exclusion had undertaken a study into the root causes of poverty, especially child poverty, and had issued recommendations to Parliament.
Turning to data and national indicators, the delegation explained that a broad panel of persons working in the administration, research, and in the field had looked at what would best measure the effectiveness of the enjoyment of children’s rights, stressing that they must be adapted to Belgian realities and must focus on children, who are often see as members of a household.
Legal provisions prohibiting the production and dissemination of child images were in place and fully respected in practice. Consultations had been held with youth courts in the Flemish and French Communities to ensure that in any conflict, the protection of the privacy of the child was given priority.
Outlining steps taken to combat ethnicity- and religion-based discrimination, the delegation mentioned the decree promoting citizenship and multiculturalism adopted by Parliament, the policy on youth and citizenship in a multi-cultural society, the 2016 decree on the integration of the gender dimension into all the policies of the French Community, and the decrees integrating the gender dimension into all regional policies in the Walloon Community in 2014 and 2016. The focus was on the quality of teaching and combatting all stereotypes and prejudices, and on action to deconstruct anti-Semitic and anti-Islam prejudices. In 2016, the Flemish and French Communities and France had held a joint meeting on combatting radicalization and violent extremism, which had been followed by the holding of three seminars on the role of youth policies in the prevention of violence and radicalization; they had been supported by the Erasmus Plus programmes.
The Flemish equal education policy guaranteed the right of all children to, inter alia, evolve in education, including for foreign-speaking children, and the right to legal protection, while the new Parliamentary regulation of 2018 defined the responsibility of schools in terms of career guidance of their pupils, and aimed to support students and their parents in making educational choices.
In terms of the application of the principle of the best interest of the child in asylum procedures, the delegation said that a specific bureau had been set up in the Office of Foreigners to provide the oversight of minors and young people, including the lodging of international protection requests and defining lasting solutions for minors. Interviews with unaccompanied children were carried out by specialized teams, in the presence of their legal guardian and a translator, in specifically-designed rooms. Specific vulnerabilities of the child, for example pregnancy, were always taken into account. The child received information about the process and the role of the guardian – orally and in writing – in a fashion appropriate to the age of the child. Unaccompanied children under the age of six were in principle not interviewed due to their lack of maturity, and all asylum-seeking children had the right to be heard.
The law on unaccompanied foreign minors set out the obligation to seek a lasting and sustainable solution for the child, with priority accorded to family reunification in a country where the family was permanently residing; other options included return to the country of origin, if there was someone – family, relatives, an organization – who could take care of the child; and the very last solution was to grant the stay in Belgium, if that was in the child’s best interest.
As far as child participation and the right to be heard were concerned, there was no unanimity in the Flemish Government to amend the decree to lower the right to vote to 16, however, in 2018, children aged 16 and above had the right to vote in municipal elections. The Ministry for Young Persons had set up mechanisms to hear the voices of youth and enable their participation. In the French Community, a survey had been conducted on the participation of the child in decision-making in the household, and another one which had found that 55 per cent of children felt that they had an influence over the decisions taken by the family. A centre had been set up to provide support to parents, and campaigns had been undertaken to encourage parents to listen to their children before taking a decision.
With regard to surgical interventions on intersex children, the delegation said that non-vital medical treatment without the consent of the child was not specifically prohibited. There was no limit on the age of the child, but the defining element was the maturity of the child, which was declared by specialists.
In 2014 the law on euthanasia had been extended to minors, with stricter regulations. The child must be declared to be healthy in spirit and judgement and fully aware, a child psychiatrist must be consulted, and the physician had an obligation to obtain a second opinion confirming that the illness was terminal and that death was imminent. Psychological suffering was not accepted as a justification for a euthanasia demand. In 2016 and in 2017, three demands for euthanasia had been submitted to the commission.
Data on violence against children collected in the French Community through the system of SOS Children teams had shown that marital and domestic violence represented 14 per cent of the cases, with fragility of parents, and economic vulnerabilities being among the leading root causes. In the Flemish Community, the survey on incidence and causes of violence against children had been completed in 2011, and its follow-up between 2016 and 2018. The preliminary results showed that children were confronted with a number of forms of violence, including cyber bullying and domestic violence, and showed the need to address the phenomenon in a comprehensive manner. The authorities were committed to repeating the survey every five years, and had added a section on cyber bullying. Research on violence, including sexual violence, experienced in intimate relationships was currently being conducted among young people from 12 to 21 years old in the Walloon and Brussels Regions.
The frontline staff, in particular social workers and medical professionals, received compulsory specialized training on detecting cases of abuse and violence against children. In schools, a new educational tool called Maltraité was aimed at all students to teach them what to do in case of physical, psychological or any other kind of abuse.
Centres for victims of sexual abuse existed in three hospitals in Belgium, to which they could be referred at any time of day or night. The victims would receive psychological and medical care, as well as forensic services. Specially trained forensic nurses staffed the centre, and collaborated closely with gynaecologists, psychologists, surgeons, and other specialists. In one year of the operation, the three pilot centres had cared for almost 1,000 victims, including 29 minors and transgender individuals. There were plans to open another three centres in 2019.
The delegation explained that the issue of sexual abuse of children by the clergy had been taken up by first by the Andriansen Commission and then by a Parliamentary Commission, which had been followed by the adoption of a number of laws on the matter, including extending the statute of limitation to 15 years and a change in the regulations of professional secrecy. An arbitration centre had been set up for the victims, in which the Church had agreed to take part in 2011; by 2017, there had been 621 cases and over €3 million had been paid in compensation.
In November 2018, Belgium had hosted a roundtable of magistrates, police officers and victims in the context of the “European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse”.
There were several helplines available to children, in addition to chats and emails.
The offence of sexual violence was included under the heading of Offences against the family, public order and morals in the Criminal Code. A new Criminal Code had been drafted by the Ministry of Justice and its adoption was expected during the current legislative session. The new Code would classify sexual offences under the heading Offences infringing sexual integrity, the right to self-determination, the right to sexual determination, and good morals.
In the Flanders, the Civil Code defined the right of adoptees to know their origin; a child could submit a request to access the files which had to be co-signed by the legal representative. In 2017, 47 international adoptees had requested access to their files, and 33 people born in Belgium had requested information on their origin. As for the assisted procreation, the law on donorship of 2007 protected the anonymity of donors and also defined that the identity of private data of the donor could be revealed with the consent of the donor and the receiving family. A maximum of six different families could use a sperm donor. The discussions on setting up a sperm databank were ongoing.
Belgium had rolled out a five-year reform of the alternative care and foster system which still applied standards of care from the 1980s and 1990s. The reform aimed to establish a system based on the principles of the Convention and which would facilitate the inclusive and comprehensive development of the child. Specific attention would be paid to victims of abuse and maintaining family relationships, and would cater to the diverse needs of children in health and education. The number of existing centres was being reduced, they were being transformed into centres that could care for children with diverse needs, and the system of funding was being restructured.
VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Belgium, concluded by expressing appreciation for the comprehensive rights-based policies and the funding at federal and regional levels, as well as action to reduce child poverty and the efforts to push the child-rights agenda forward at the European level. The Co-Rapporteur regretted that the time was not sufficient to adequately discuss issues such as the treatment of migrant children, the situation of children in institutions, and the system of juvenile justice.
THOMAS STEVENS, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his concluding remarks, stressed the importance that Belgium placed on the expertise and experience of the Committee and valued its comments which helped the authorities at all levels to identify the challenges and remedies it could put in place. Belgium also recognized the important role of civil society in providing alternative reports and for their direct action with children in the field. Belgium would continue to place children’s rights at the top of its domestic and international agendas.
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation and said that dealing with three different regions, each with itsr own policies and institutions, was a challenge during the dialogue.
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